The capital of Belgium, Brussels is one incredible city. It offers visitors a chance to see lots of impressive 17th century building and there are daily flower markets. Looked upon as Brussel’s Eiffel Tower the Atomium which reopened in 2006 offers spectacular views both inside and out. The city also has lots of wonderful green spaces where people can commune with nature and relax.
The Old English Building dates back to 1899 and was once a department store. It is now an Art Nouveau showpiece with a black facade decorated with wrought iron and arched windows. Inside you’ll find the music museum that celebrates music in all of its forms. There is a repository for over 2000 historic instruments. The idea here is to lend your ears as you can hear such sounds as arcane shepherds’ bagpipes, Chinese carillons and harpsichords. Relax at the rooftop cafe and get wonderful views of the city.
Grand Place is Brussels’ central square where you can see the grand Gothic Hotel de Ville which was the only building to escape bombardment by the French in 1695. This pedestrian-only square is surrounded by guildhalls adorned with gilded statues. Some of the guildhalls now house cafes.
At Grand Place you’ll also find Bourse Brussels’ stock exchange dating from 1873 with a neo-Classical stone facade that features sculptures by the young Rodin.
A block northeast from Grand Place is Europe’s first shopping arcade – Galeries St. Hubert dating from 1847. Here you can see colorful lanes of fish restaurants.
On Rue Charles Buls, the city’s tourist-orientated shopping street you’ll find chocolate and trinket shops. Here you’ll also get to see the incredible statue of Charles Buls and his dog. Buls was the Mayor of Brussels for 18 years at the end of the 19th century.
Three blocks from there is the ever popular Manneken Pis. The famous fountain statue of a little boy cheerfully take a leak. On anniversary’s, national day or during a local event he is dressed in costumes and has an ever-growing wardrobe that is displayed at the Maison du Roi.
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts incorporates the Museum of Ancient Arts and the Museum of Modern Art featuring artworks by surrealist Paul Delvaux and fauvist Rik Wouters. In the Museum of Ancient Arts you’ll see 15th century Flemish Primitives such as Pieta with its hallucinatory dawn sky by Rogier Van der Weyden, refined portraits by Hans Memling and Madonna with Saints by the Master of the Legend of St. Lucy. Many more artworks to see and delight in.
Visitors are always amazed when they see the space-age Atomium that hovers 102m over north Brussels’ suburbia. It is made up of nine house-sized metallic balls linked by steel tube-columns which have escalators and lifts. The balls are set up like a school chemistry set in order to represent iron atoms in their crystal lattice except that in this case the atoms here are 165 billion times larger. This was built as a symbol of postwar progress for the 1958 World’s Fair but remained a permanent attraction. At night you can see the spheres sparkle. Take the time to visit the panorama-level restaurant which opens at 6:30 PM.
Maison Cauchie is an impressive Art-Nouveau building with a 1905 facade that is decorated with stylized female figures. The building was built by Art-Nouveau architect, painter and designer Paul Chauchie. Inside the gallery you can see Cauchie’s expressionist paintings and read about the buildings 1980s salvation. A tour takes visitors into the fantastic sgraffito-decorated rooms upstairs.
Way back in 1521 Anderlecht now a municipality was a country village. At a charming brick home world-famous humanist Erasmus spent five months to enjoy the country life. The house is now the Erasmus House Museum. It has been furnished with artworks such as several Flemish Primitive paintings and some priceless manuscripts. Behind the house is a lovely “philosophy garden”. The house is located behind the 16th century Gothic Church of St. Pierre & St. Guidon. The church contains some original murals. At one time it was a pilgrimage site up until WW II where cart-drivers and those suffering fits would come to pray before the reliquary of 10th century St. Guidon who was the multitasked patron saint of cattle, work-horses, sheds and epileptics. The church’s white-stone spire dominates the Place de la Vaillance, a cafe-ringed square. There are also some 1920s buildings with pseudo-medieval facades.
Built during the reign of Leopold II Parc du Cinquantenaire is known for its cluster of museums – art, history, military and motor vehicles. Here you can also see the impressive Arcade du Cinquantenaire, a triumphal arch built in 1880 to celebrate 50 years of Belgian independence. In the summertime there is a popular drive-in cinema here.
The Royal Museum of Art and History Museum housed in the southern wing of the Cinquantenaire buildings is full of antiquities from all around the world. At the Royal Museum of Art and History you can see many different things such as sarcophagi from Ancient Egypt, Meso-American masks, icons and even wooden bicycles. Some of the highlights here include medieval stone carvings set around a neo-Gothic cloister and soaring Corinthian columns. Since most of the labeling is in French and Dutch it is advisable to get the audio guide in English.
12 km north of downtown Brussels you’ll find the 93-hectare National Botanic Garden in the village of Meise. The garden is based around two lakes and includes the Kasteel van Boechout, a castle with a moat that Leopold II gave to his sister, Princess Charlotte, when her own burnt down in 1879.
There are 18,000 plant species in the botanical garden. The most prized orchids, carnivorous plants and famous giant Amazonian water lilies are housed in the 1966 Plant Palace – a series of 13 connecting greenhouses. Some other highlights here are the outdoor medicinal garden and a small 1864 greenhouse that is shaped like a king’s crown. The 18th century orangery was converted into a cafe and shop.
Brussels has a 25m tall version of Nelson’s Column known as the Colonne du Congres. This monolith dating from the 1850s is topped by a gilded statue of King Leopold I. It commemorates the Belgian constitution of 1831. Around its base are four female figures representing the four constitutionally upheld freedoms of religion, association, education and the press. Between two bronze lions is an eternal flame that honors Belgian victims of the two World Wars.
Brussels also offers its visitors an extensive forest park – Bois de Cambre. The park stretches from Ave Louise to the Foret de Soignes where the soaring beech trees then extend all the way to Waterloo. The park was established in 1862 and offers its visitors lawns to relax on, playgrounds, a “pocket” theater, a roller-skating rink and an island on an artificial lake. One the island is the historic Chalet Robinson care-restaurant. Visitors take a ferry to the island to enjoy lunch or to have an ice cream.